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Home From the Rabbi From the Rabbi - March 2021
From the Rabbi - March 2021 PDF Print E-mail

At the beginning of the Passover Seder we hold up the Matzah and declare:


This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt.

Let all who are hungry, come and eat. 

Let all who are needy, come and celebrate Passover. 

This year we are here – next year, may we be in the Land of Israel. 

This year we are slaves – next year, may we be free.


It seems to be an odd way to start a meal, by describing the signature food of the meal as being connected to affliction or poverty.  But this declaration has strong imagery and meaning for our experience of Passover.  The act of raising the matzah and making this declaration reminds of us of G-d raising us from slavery and leading us to freedom.  It is a reminder of our people’s origins and G-d’s power in saving us from oppression and affliction.


But, in truth, it is perhaps the rest of the statement that is more important. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks asks: “What hospitality is it to offer the hungry a taste of suffering?” He answers, “What transforms the bread of affliction into the bread of freedom is the willingness to share it with others… Sharing food is the first act through which slaves become human beings.  One who fears tomorrow does not offer his bread to others.  But one who is willing to divide his food with a stranger has already shown himself capable of fellowship and faith, the two things from which hope is born.”


What is important then about declaring the matzah the bread of affliction is what it tells us about how we should be inspired to act in response to it.  We are inspired to help others who are afflicted and oppressed to escape their situation. By declaring that we are all eating this bread of affliction we are also saying we are all equal, none better or superior to the other, sharing that common story and welcoming those in need to our table and to our community. 


And perhaps, after a year of affliction, it is a reminder that when challenged and faced with difficulty and tragedy, our job is to help others to find hope and to overcome, to support and comfort each other in the bad times just as we share joy in the good times. 


This year we continue to deal with the challenges of COVID but we work to keep ourselves and each other safe and healthy.  And as we look forward to us all being back together later this year and being back together in person for the seder next year, we are all inspired to work to bring hope and comfort to our community and the world.  


Rabbi Ilan Emanuel





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